Tuesday, 16 October, 2018

After 17 days and 1000 miles, mother orca drops her dead calf

Tahlequah is no longer carrying her dead calf Grieving Orca Whale Releases Dead Calf After More Than Two Weeks
Faye Gross | 15 August, 2018, 07:15

An endangered orca that captivated the world with its "tour of grief" has returned to its pod after spending more than two weeks clinging to a dead and decomposing calf, researchers said Sunday.

Ken Balcomb, executive director of the Center for Whale Research, spotted orca J35 with her pod off San Juan Island on Saturday, and said the ordeal of carrying her dead calf is over.

She finally abandoned the carcass as it decomposed.

Experts had been concerned about the mother's condition and anxious that the time and energy spent clinging onto the infant's body could take away from time spent foraging or feeding.

Researchers were concerned that the orca's "deep grieving process", pushing the carcass for 1,000 miles off Washington state, was distracting it from foraging and feeding.

But she's also known as Tahlequah.

"Her tour of grief is now over and her behaviour is remarkably frisky", read an update on the research centre's website.

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"Telephoto digital images taken from shore show that this mother whale appears to be in good physical condition", says the Centre for Whale Research. Researchers attribute the decline to a lack of Chinook salmon, as well as increased pollution, vessel traffic and noise. "This is an animal that is grieving for its dead baby, and she doesn't want to let it go".

Dr. Martin Haulena, the chief veterinarian at the Vancouver Aquarium, said a one- or two-day "mourning period" is common in many cetacean species such as whales and dolphins, but the 17-day-long journey was distinctly odd.

Most killer whales eat a wider diet, but this particular group of about 75 resident orcas eats just salmon, which have been overfished in the area for commercial consumption.

"J35, the mom, seems to be doing well, very energetic and travelling with her family members", he said in an e-mail.

"She literally is pushing her baby to connect with it and, hope against hope - hoping that it will take a breath, which it will never do", biologist and wildlife conservationist Jeff Corwin told CBSN last week.

Typically, Atkinson said, researchers have seen mothers carry stillborn calves for "a day or so".

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